In the early 19th century, Parkstone was still a mainly rural area with few inhabitants. Its indented coastline of lagoons and salt marshes provided a living for samphire gatherers and salt workers. Within living memory the famous Isaac Gulliver and other smugglers had regularly landed their goods on the uninhabited sand dunes of Haven (Sandbanks) and the sandy, chine-cut shore beyond. Inland from the coast was an area of hills, small farms, woods, marshes and winding country lanes, merging into the heath which stretched without a break ten miles to Christchurch. The only main route through Parkstone was the lonely coach road heading east from Poole, and it was beside the road at Brown Bottom and Ashley Cross that the small population of the area was centred. Some local people made woollen clothing, boots and shoes and fishing nets for export to Newfoundland. A few were tradesmen or inn-keepers and most of the rest were farmers and agricultural labourers.
Like other approaches to Poole, Parkstone had once been dismissed as barren, dreary and desolate, but as the century progressed, ideas were changing. The varied landscape and harbour views appealed to those seeking a rural retreat and a scattering of well-to-do families gradually moved into the area. The Elms, Salterns and Lilliput House dotted the shore line, while The Castle, Belmont, Highmoor, Sandecotes, Castle Eve and other residences crowned the wooded slopes, enjoying delightful prospects of the harbour, Brownsea Island and the Purbeck hills.
Other changes were taking place. Parkstone acquired a church, St. Peter’s at Ashley Cross, built in 1833. The Newfoundland trade was in decline and salt working became thing of the past, but with the founding of Bournemouth and the growth of the suburbs came a demand for the sand and clay underlying Parkstone’s heathlands. Pits were opened up and in 1853, Sharp Jones & Co. set up the small Bourne Valley Pottery in Upper Parkstone, using clay dug on the site. A few years later George Jennings, the drainage and sanitary ware engineer, visited the area in search of sources of clay. Having found difficulty in interesting London potters in his new patented method of manufacturing stoneware drainpipes, he had resolved to enter the pottery business himself.
Enterprising, inventive and hard-working, George Jennings was the quintessential Victorian self-made man. He originated from Hampshire but it was in London that he had started his business and earned his reputation as an innovator. In 1851, he had supplied the sanitation arrangements for the Great Exhibition when over 800,000 visitors paid a penny to use his ‘monkey closets’ in the retiring rooms of the Crystal Palace’ (the first use of the phrase ‘to spend a penny’). Jennings was at the forefront of improvements in drainage and sanitation. He won a series of contracts to supply water and drainage systems to towns and institutions in Britain and on the outbreak of the Crimean War, was given the job of constructing the sanitary fittings for the hospitals at Varus and Scutari.
In Parkstone, Jennings bought a 70 acre plot, south of Ashley Cross near Blake Dene, previously occupied by Myrtle Farm and Malmesbury and Parsons’ model dairy farm. An old iron mill had once stood nearby. According to later descriptions, it was a barren place, ‘a bog or piece of marshland’ but it contained the all-important clay beds and space for pottery buildings. To protect his investment in the unfamiliar business, Jennings needed an experienced right-hand man on site and from the start he relied on the expertise of John S. Hudson (poached from Bourne Valley Pottery) who proved to be an able and energetic manager.
Poole builder, Mr. Dunford started work around May 1855 and the South Western Pottery soon began to take shape. The main building was 3 storeys high, 120 ft long and 70 ft wide. The clay pits were 100ft. from the pottery and a horse-powered tramway was built to carry the clay to the pug mills and wetting cellars. By January 1858, when Mr. Hudson treated the nearly 90 employees to a festive dinner, there was reason for celebration. The pottery had been in successful operation for a year and had already been extended with the addition of three extra kilns. During that time they had turned out and sold great numbers of Jennings Patent Drainpipes and Saddles (a kind of drainpipe connector) using locally designed machines. The pottery was providing employment and even raising wages in the area. The road from Parkstone Mill to Blake Hill had been levelled and improved in a joint scheme between Mr. Hudson and local farmer Mrs Dorothy Solly at no cost to the rate payer. Altogether a bit of self congratulation was allowable.
Pottery supporters argued that as the land was poor and barren, ‘if then the soil can be made productive in any way, there can be no doubt that incalculable benefits must result therefrom.’ Others probably resented the intrusion of industry into their rural idyll and felt like Mary Butts who grew up at Salterns at the beginning of the 20th century. She described the clay workings as ‘pale clay-pits; and behind these, nearest to the woods abandoned pits, half-filled with Chinese-blue water, and queer grey cliffs oozing and dripping; and everywhere a tangle of brambles and savage thickets.’ Mildred Holmes who played near the pottery as a child at about the same time, had happier impressions. She remembered the stretches of heathland, rich woods, streams and pools and ‘green leafy lanes’.
In the next few decades, the South Western Pottery extended their range of products to include bricks, chimney pots, stone and terra-cotta ware besides a wide range of drainage pipes and fittings. Their products were exported all over the world and at its height, the pottery had 12 kilns and 6 chimneys. John Hudson and his family moved to Holly Lodge, between Brown Bottom and Ashley Cross. On his visits to Parkstone, George Jennings was captivated by the place and purchased the Castle Eve estate on the slopes of Castle Hill, once the home of Robert H. Parr, solicitor and former Town Clerk of Poole. He planned to retire there but in the meantime, used the house as a summer retreat for his family. With characteristic energy he also continued to run the model farm and set up a school for the children of the pottery workers on the Sandbanks Road. Evening talks on various topics were provided for the workers themselves. As alternate entertainment, the Bee Hive Inn was opened by an enterprising local brewery conveniently close to the pottery.
The relative inaccessibility of Parkstone was a problem for the factory which needed to bring in quantities of coal and send out its fragile goods in bulk. In 1866, George Jennings appealed to the Board of Trade for permission to build a pier at Salterns to avoid the rough journey by road from Poole Quay. The question was going to be whether or not this would give Jennings exemption from paying harbour dues to Poole Corporation. Permission was granted and the pier was duly constructed in 1867. A narrow gauge railway led to the pier by a curving route.
Later that year William Walton, master of Jennings’ brig, Clyde, was summonsed for refusing to pay 7s boomage dues and £3 13s 6d harbour and quay dues, on a cargo of 294 tons of coal unloaded at Salterns pier. The case was heard at the Poole petty sessions and after a long debate the magistrates ordered the dues to be paid and the vessel to be seized.
However this was not the end of the battle. Jennings continued to refuse to pay and the Trustees continued to take action against him as costs rose. In the end the case came before the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster which found in favour of the Trustees. Jennings had to pay their costs of over £2,700 as well as his own. Soon after, in 1874, circumstances changed when Parkstone station was opened. In anticipation, George Jennings had bought a standard gauge 0-4-0 saddle tank engine a couple of years before. Now a standard gauge line was laid from the station to the pottery thus connecting the works to the national rail network. Later, the narrow gauge line to the pier was replaced by a standard gauge, at least as far as the landward end. Pipes continued to be shipped from the pier while coal supplies now came in by rail through Parkstone station and the pottery spur.
Meanwhile, Parkstone continued to grow. The population of 851 in 1841 had swollen to over 2,000 by 1881. Development was greatest around Ashley Cross and north of Ashley Road where estates were laid out. The number of well-to-do private residents was increasing and more shops and inns were opening with butchers, bakers, ironmongers, tailors, drapers and other tradesmen to supply local residents. At one time the Britannia Inn at Ashley Cross had been one of the few inns in the district. By the 1880s there was the Bee Hive, the Station Hotel, the Sloop, the North Haven Hotel and the Woodman besides various beer houses and coffee taverns.
George Jennings died on 17th April 1882 at the age of 71, as the result of a carriage accident in London. He had married twice and fathered a family of 15 children. In a busy life of work he never managed to retire to his estate in Dorset. The pottery continued under the Jennings name for many years. It was not until 1967 that the site was finally sold off for housing development; the Conifer estate now occupies the area. John Hudson served as mayor of Poole in 1873 and later became a local J.P. There is no doubt that the success of the pottery was partly due to his energy and expertise.
Parkstone of course continued to grow and eventually merged into what Mary Butts called ‘the dreadful juncture of Poole industrialism and the suburban extension of Bournemouth. A place which has lost centre, character, distinction, hierarchy.’ Inevitably the influx of people into the area tended to destroy some of the qualities that they were looking for in the first place. Most people would say that it is still a very pleasant and scenic place to live even if the ‘ancient woods’ the ‘delicate drifting lanes’ and the ‘pale sand and couch grass wilderness’ of Sandbanks are gone for ever.
Sources included: Articles from the Poole and Dorset Herald, The Crystal Cabinet by Mary Butts, Rails to Poole Harbour by Colin Stone, Victorian Poole by John Hillier, Parkstone Recollections by Mildred Holmes